What was a strong start for the Eastern Michigan football team ended with a slow finish as the Eagles fell to Old Dominion 38-34, opening the regular season at Rynearson Stadium.
The Eagles (0-1) couldn’t stop ODU running back Ray Lawry, as he rushed for 223 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Monarchs (1-0) to the win.
“They got their running game going,” coach Chris Creighton said. “It was pretty warm, and I think both offenses were wearing down the defenses out there. Tip my hat to Old Dominion coming on the road coming to make the critical plays.”
The Eagles came out in the first quarter swinging on their first offensive possession, driving 68 yards on four plays capped by a 36-yard touchdown run from Darius Jackson, giving the Eagles an early 7-0 lead.
Two possessions later, Jackson found the endzone again, this time from 10 yards out after leading EMU to the redzone with a 38-yard catch on a screen pass from Bell to extend the lead to 14-0. Jackson finished the day with a career-high 117 yards rushing with 67 yards receiving and the two touchdowns.
“I think we came out with a certain attitude on offense,” Jackson said. “The o-line set the tempo with their intensity, and we followed and I made the most of my opportunities.”
ODU scored on the following possession, going 67 yards in seven plays with a 14-yard touchdown from quarterback Shuler Bentley to receiver David Washington to cut the Eagles lead to 14-7 with 1:31 left in the first quarter.
After an eventful first quarter with the Eagles leading 14-7, both teams settled for one 19-yard field goal, keeping the EMU lead at seven with a 17-10 halftime score.
The Eagles opened the second half strong with a ten play, 66-yard drive capped off by a screen pass from quarterback Reggie Bell to receiver Dustin Creel for a 10 yard score and extend the lead to 24-10.
However, momentum shifted towards Old Dominion beginning on the ensuing kickoff, when Zach Pascal returned the kick to the ODU 31 and drew a facemask penalty from EMU to gain an extra 15 yards. Ray Lawry on the next play took the handoff off-tackle 54 yards for the first of his touchdowns, cutting the Eagle lead down to 24-17.
The Monarchs two plays later sacked Bell, forcing a fumble, which was recovered by ODU at the Eagle 27 yard line. Six plays later, Lawry ran in for his second score to tie the game at 24.
Bell found Creel in the back of the endzone for the second touchdown connection of the game to regain the lead at 31-24, only for Lawry to find the endzone again on the ensuing ODU driveand tie the score up again at 31 with 40 seconds left in the third quarter.
Three drives later, kicker Dylan Mulder makes EMU history, tying a school record with a 52-yard field goal with 8:46 left in the game to regain the lead for the Eagles at 34-31.
“Our special teams coordinator Coach Keen and Coach Creighton give me a lot of opportunities in practice,” Mulder said. “Lately, I’ve been having a good time making those long kicks in practice.”
Two ODU drives later, Lawry scores for a fourth time, this time from 45 yards to give the Monarchs the lead at 38-34 with 1:57 left in the game.
Reggie Bell left earlier in the fourth quarter due to a jaw injury, leaving backup Brogan Roback to lead the final drive of the game. After getting the ball to the ODU 40 with 25 seconds left in the game, Roback’s pass on fourth down and six yards to go is tipped up in the air and intercepted by ODU defensive end Tim Ward, sealing the defeat.
“As hard as it is when you only get 12 of them and you lose one, I’m still encouraged,” Creighton said. “No matter what happened today, we’re going to keep getting better. We are going to be adamant and rabid and obsessed with getting better.”
The Eagles will next travel out west to Wyoming to play the University of Wyoming. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m.